“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”
The Nicene Creed contains the most controversial words in all of Christendom. The gradual acceptance of the phrase “and the Son” in the Western Church helped cement the long divide with the Eastern Church by about a thousand years after Christ. In Latin the phrase is filioque and it contributed to what is known as the Great Schism.
It is argued by the Eastern Orthodox churches that the addition of the filoque alters the careful and studied understanding of the Trinity established by the early ecumenical councils. They also are grieved that such a decision would be made without their input. The West sees it as a helpful and biblical clarification that highlights how Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are profoundly linked. We are not going to solve that debate here.
The reason the filoque is so controversial is because it stands in a creed that otherwise summarizes what all Christians have always believed everywhere. It defines orthodox and serves doctrinal and spiritual unity. If we get distracted by one disputed phrase we risk missing the resplendent truth Christians proclaim about the Holy Spirit:
The Holy Spirit is God. The creed proclaims the Holy Spirit as Lord. Wait…. isn’t Jesus Lord? Naming the Spirit as “the Lord” is neither making the Spirit the same as Jesus nor putting the Spirit in competition with Jesus. In fact, there is no competition in the Trinity at all. It is, rather, a reference to the revered name for God used in the Old Testament. To call the Holy Spirit Lord is to pronounce and affirm the person-hood and divinity of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an it, a phantom, or George Lucas’ Force. First Corinthians 12:11 says that the Spirit distributes gifts “just as he wills.” The Holy Spirit is a person… a person of the Trinity. He is God.
The Holy Spirit gives life. The first time we meet the Holy Spirit in scripture is Genesis 1:2 where the Holy Spirit was brooding over the face of the chaotic waters like a hen over her eggs. Creation ensued. When God created Adam in his image and likeness, he breathed into his soil sculpture the breath of life. The word used is ruah, a breathy Hebrew word found 389 times in the Old Testament. In John’s Gospel, Jesus breathed the Spirit onto his disciples. In Acts, the Spirit came like a mighty, rushing wind. God creates and recreates us through the power of the Spirit. When someone experiences new life in Jesus Christ, it is only because the Holy Spirit has drawn, convicted, and transformed them (John 16:8). Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be born again of the Spirit (John 3).
The Holy Spirit is worshiped. Because the Holy Spirit is God, the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship. Francis Chan has called the Holy Spirit “the forgotten God” because we so seldom make him the focus of our devotion. But our doxology helps us to remember to worship God in his full trinitarian majesty. True worship, Jesus said, is in spirit and truth (John 4). Our worship is impossibly incomplete without the Holy Spirit. Prayer to the Spirit, too, is effective and essential. Perhaps my most common prayer is simply, “Come, Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit has spoken. The Scriptures are inseparably linked with the Holy Spirit. “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The reason the Scriptures are authoritative for us is because they came to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is also the one who interprets the truth of Scripture to us. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that we cannot discern God’s truth except through the Spirit. At the Last Supper, Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit more than any other subject (see John 15-17). He promised that the Spirit would testify about him and guide us into all truth.
Let me close with a brief testimony.
By faith I have come to understand that the Holy Spirit was working in my life before I was even born. I believe he was present at my baptism at the altar of Cache Chapel United Methodist Church. I was raised with my grandmother telling me stories of great revivals and miracles she had seen. But the church I attended never seemed to have those things happening. The first time I remember feeling the Holy Spirit was at Beulah Youth Institute in Eldorado, Illinois. At this UM camp I felt a strong tug on my heart toward faith, and I answered.
Throughout my growing up years, I often felt like something was missing, even though I was active in church and our youth group. When I was sixteen I met the girl that would become my wife. She was an on-fire Christian. She even carried her Bible to school with her! As our relationship grew, I continued to see something in her walk with God that I desperately needed. A small group of us sought intentional discipleship at the home of a dear older saint named Mina Jo. She often taught us about the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit. I remember sitting cross-legged in her living room asking those gathered to lay their hands on me and pray that I would be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was a personal Pentecost.
Since that time I have met countless Christians who bear witness to the same basic experience. Our lives are weak and rudderless without the infilling, guiding work of the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit comes life, power, freedom, and purpose. I later learned that the Methodist movement started as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and that another Great Awakening propelled American Methodism and scriptural holiness across the land.
We need this renewal again so desperately. One of the things I appreciate greatly about the Wesleyan Covenant Association is a renewed focus on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. What we wish for the church we wish for first in our own lives: Come, Holy Spirit!
by Chris Ritter
The Re. Dr. Chris Ritter is the Directing Pastor of a multi-site ministry in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference that includes Geneseo First United Methodist Church and Cambridge UMC.